|Photo-montage created by Uwe Kils|
The Grinch poked his head in today. This has already been a Christmas season with a good number of ups and downs, but things seemed to be settling down. I was starting to sense that contented feeling which has made an appearance in many of the previous years as items have been marked off of the “still ahead list”. Christmas programs are mostly done and performances completed with tolerable competence. The annual party with friends was a success. Most of my tasks at the music store are shaping up and quite a few customers have been served successfully. The goal is in sight and we’re just coasting down to the final, lovely gatherings in celebration of our Savior’s birth.
But, as I said, the Grinch poked his head in today. I was sitting at my desk yesterday when it happened. The thought came to me, as I drew in a breath of air. (I like to do that periodically, you know–breathe. I’m told that it’s good for my health.) The uneasy question formed itself, as a little whistling sound intruded on the sultry tones of Karen Carpenter’s vocals coming from the speakers on my desk. “What was that?” I asked, of no one in particular. And, wouldn’t you know it? No one particular answered. My brain did, though. “It was you, knucklehead. It happened when you just took that breath.” The realization grew, as my spirits fell a bit. Asthma. My new, old friend. I wished then that the visit would, hopefully, be short lived. Time will tell, but more symptoms arrived today and I’m not feeling so hopeful about it.
You know, Dr. Seuss introduced his grumpy little green friend in the same year that I was born. I will admit that I’m not a huge fan of the author, since I have an aversion to being manipulated to latent conclusions and the Dr. was definitely a master at that. Nonetheless, the Grinch, I understand. This unhappy creature wanted to share his unhappiness with everyone, so he tried to “steal Christmas”. Today, my Grinch is the illness which my body is fighting off, not quite successfully, at this moment.
Funny how illness seems to play a part in so much unhappiness. Many memories I have of unhappy times are also memories of illness. There are a number of occasions which are brought to mind, as I contemplate this subject tonight, especially within my own family. For some reason, my mind also intermingles parts of that classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I think that the “drafty old house” which the protagonist, George Bailey and his pretty wife, Mary live in helps to draw a parallel. George blames the house (among other things) for his daughter’s illness, but he puts her peace of mind above his own. He sits by her bedside, greatly disturbed by his problems, but carefully shields her from any unhappy thoughts. He even tries to follow her instructions to “Paste it, Daddy” for her when a couple of petals fall off of the rose on her bedside table. Every time I watch, I feel a kinship with the character.
I’m actually thinking about a little boy in my own drafty old house who suffered frequently during his early years from the same ailment I’ve developed as a mature adult. As the little guy gasped for breath upstairs and coughed so hard that it seemed he would injure himself, this real-life dad responded much as the screen father did in that movie–with desperation. Illness is a powerful source of stress and unease, especially when someone we love is suffering. At the same time, we want to protect and make things right for them. I remember many nights when it seemed that my joy had been stolen away completely.
Over the years, I have begun to contemplate the reality of my faith and its effect on who I am a little more than I once did. I understand that joy, the deep-seated sense of delight or exultation, is not dependent upon circumstances or events. It is, in fact, closely related to grace, the two words coming from the same root in the Greek language. If you, like I, are a follower of Jesus, you will understand when I say that we are instructed, not just to feel joy, but to exercise it. It is used most often in the verb form in the pages of the Bible. We choose to be joyful, even if we don’t feel it for the time being.
So, Dr. Seuss got it right for once, by some happy chance (and without ever understanding the true reason for Christmas). The presents and food mean nothing. As hard as it is to admit, our health and our financial stability are also simply peripheral in their importance. Losing the trappings of happiness strips us down to the bare bones of who we really are. Joy lives deep in the heart of man, put there solely by his Creator and Savior. It cannot be stolen away by any Grinch, be he real or imagined.
As I write, I don’t feel any better physically. But deep down, I realize that it’s immaterial. I once heard that joy is similar to an iceberg. The part you see above water–that’s the physical blessings we enjoy. It’s the part that’s below the surface that really matters. What you can’t see is what is really keeping the whole affair afloat.
I wonder what’s really there, under the surface. When the visible, the palpable, blessings are stripped away, what will be left for you? For me?
So, even through my wheezing and coughing, I am working today to remember that the joy which comes from the King of Christmas is my strength.
That is something that no Grinch will ever be able to steal from me.
“This day is holy unto the Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.”
(Isaac Watts~English hymnwriter/theologian~1674-1748)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.